The Unthinkable Loss

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I cried on Tisha B’Av. Not for the destroyed Temple we were mourning, to which most of us have trouble relating, but because of a book that served as my primary Tisha B’Av reading. R. Jeffrey Saks’ and Dr. Joel Wolowelsky’s To Mourn A Child: Jewish Responses to Neonatal and Childhood Death (published by OU Press, with which I am closely connected) is haunting, terrifying but comforting.

The collection of essays, primarily by parents who have lost children, touches on every parent’s worst nightmare. How do you recover from losing the child in whom you invested so much time and emotion, to whom you have dedicated not only effort but hope and dream and the deepest kind of love? As each parent (and a brother and a few professionals) tells his story, the answer becomes clear. Everyone copes differently. Each child is unique; each parent is different. There is no single road to recovery.

However, reading the different stories, you sense that there is hope. There is a path for returning to life, for continuing despite the irreplaceable loss. Everyone’s story is different but learning that alone is crucial. Misery loves company, not out of masochism or role reversal but because it relieves the loneliness and confusion that compound the pain. The recognition that others understand your loss, not just abstract knowledge that other people have felt the pain but concrete realization of their similar experiences, creates a bridge out of your darkness.

Most of these stories are heart breaking–a mother and daughter both write about losing a child! Only read this book if you are willing to enter a world of emotional pain. This is a difficult book for the average reader but indispensable for someone enveloped in tragedy. I imagine that someone suffering from such a loss will find not comfort but commiseration in these personal tales. Reading other people’s lessons from despair might help one find his own lessons, his own bridge out of the darkness.

About Gil Student

Rabbi Gil Student is the Editor of, a leading website on Orthodox Jewish scholarly subjects, and the Book Editor of the Orthodox Union’s Jewish Action magazine. He writes a popular column on issues of Jewish law and thought featured in newspapers and magazines, including The Jewish Link, The Jewish Echo and The Vues. In the past, he has served as the President of the small Jewish publisher Yashar Books and as the Managing Editor of OU Press. Rabbi Student currently is serving his third term on the Executive Committee of the Rabbinical Council of America and also serves as the Director of the Halacha Commission of the Rabbinical Alliance of America. He serves on the Editorial Board of Jewish Action magazineand the Board of OU Press. He has published four English books, the most recent titled Search Engine volume 2: Finding Meaning in Jewish Texts -- Jewish Leadership, and served as the American editor for Morasha Kehillat Yaakov: Essays in Honour of Chief Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks.


  1. I always felt that the greatest test of faith;greater than the churban or the Holocaust,is dealing with the death of an innocent child. I would be very interested to read the book although I think that there can be little to say besides “Baruch Dayyan Ha-emet”

  2. From a recent audio roundup
    Stephen Savitsky-To Mourn a Child

    Discussion of a book of essays of parents and families that have suffered losses of young children (lo aleinu). Vayidom Yitzchak Yosef ben Avraham ZLL”HH.


  3. Thank you for this very gratifying review of our book. The front matter (preface, intro, Table of Contents) can be accessed here:

    Jeffrey Saks

  4. The point of Tisha B’Av is to mourn the Temple. By extension, as we have moved further away from the Temple, we can extend that to mourning all Jewish communities. But such unthinkable losses as described here are not particularly Jewish. I am unsure if there’s anything special about reading it on Tisha B’av. If the point is just to cry, period, regardless of the reasons, we may as well cut onions.

    [Goes without saying I’m sure the book is excellent, and definitely fills a need for an extraordinarily hard thing to deal with. Kudos to the authors. My comments are specifically dealing with 9 Av.]

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